Vanity Fair (UK), December 8, 1904

Our Christmas Pantomime.



By B. Fletcher Robinson and P. G. Wodehouse.


Little Red Riding Hood: The Virtuous British Public.

Grandmother: Mrs. Grundy.

Good Fairy: Mr. W. T. Stead.

Demons: Messrs. Pinero, Maeterlinck, Jones, Ibsen.

Hunters: Messrs. Benson, R. J. Campbell, Sutro, Mesdames Corelli and Rita.

And the

Wolf: The Smart Set.

Act i.

 (An ordinary wood, consisting of trees kindly lent by His Majesty’s Theatre. Vista to left showing Mrs. Grundy’s cottage in the distance.)

 (Enter the authors, disguised as a Prologue.)

The Prologue, with the modesty of conscious merit noticeable in its demeanour:

To us, my friends, your kind attention lend,
Fable our means, morality our end.
Does this Smart Set, of whom we daily read,
Live but to gamble, motor, flirt, and feed?
Would it destroy the virtue which we find
So patent in the British Public’s mind?
Is it but Wolf indeed, who from its den
Has rushed to swallow all the Upper Ten,
While even commoners in danger be?
Is this a fact? Or does sheer jealousy
Inspire the critics who upon it fall,
Since wealth in others is abhorred by all?
We do not know, nor do we think that you
Have better information—so adieu.

(Exit the Prologue hastily. Enter the Virtuous British Public as Little Red Riding Hood.)

little red riding hood:

I am so tired and my feet are sore,
So far from home I’ve never been before—
At least without a proper chaperone,
(Looking about.)
And now I feel so very much alone.
’Tis but the sense of duty which to-day
Impels me on my slightly nervous way;
For in this wood a horrid Wolf resides,
Called the Smart Set, and woe, indeed, betides
She who should meet him, so at least I’m told,
By ladies young and leader-writers old.
Still, e’en a wolf should ever have his due,
And so of him I now will sing to you.

Song: Little Red Riding Hood.

I’ve heard of the ways of that wonderful coterie
 Known as the Smart Set to all in the land;
They race through a life that is Bridge-y and motor-y—
 Things that I’ve read of, but don’t understand.
Their code of morality’s dreadful and sinister,
 Quite a disgrace to our civilised times:
Morphia and so on they freely administer;
 Breakfast in bed is the least of their crimes.
All their existence unpleasantly garish is,
Shocking the vicars of neighbouring parishes;
Men of position and ladies of quality
Spend day and night in a round of frivolity.
 Rarely, they say, has the sun ever shone
 O’er such terrible, scandalous, sad goings-on.

The scandals and sins of our modern society
Beat Greece and Rome in extent and variety;
Egypt and Babylon look very small,
The Smart Set, it seems, can give points to them all.

One reads of their deeds in the magazine article,
 Finds them exposed in the pamphlet and book;
Of virtue they seem to possess not a particle;
 None can be seen, though minutely you look.
Satirists rage, but their wit, which to hurt is meant,
 Somehow contrives to achieve the reverse;
Pleased and refreshed by the splendid advertisement,
 Straight they proceed to grow steadily worse.
Gibes, which their skin should pierce painfully through, tickle,
Such is the armour-clad state of their cuticle;
Minds such as theirs are but fitted to harbour a
Love for their meals and distaste for a Yarborough.
 These are a few of the things that are said
 In some of the papers and books I have read.

Oh, the scandals and sins of our modern society
Beat Greece and Rome in extent and variety;
Egypt and Babylon look very small,
The Smart Set, it seems, can give points to them all.

(Enter Mr. W. T. Stead as the Good Fairy.)

the good fairy:

Whither, young lady, do you wander now?

little red riding hood:

To see my Granny, Sir.

the good fairy:

Then I allow
That you do well; though truly there is danger
Within these glades of which the Wolf is Ranger.
But, tell me, if ’tis not a tiresome task,
What would you of good Mistress Grundy ask?

little red riding hood:

Kind Sir, I have been asked by friends to dine,
Thereafter going to a pantomime,
And I would know if virtuous people may
Visit, unharmed, that form of Christmas play.

the good fairy:

A play! (Thunder heard left.)
A theatre! (Thunder heard right.)
What, a pantomime!
(Thunder heard overhead.)
Not while the stars which do above us shine
(When it is night); not while the balmy breeze
(When it is summer) agitates the trees;
Not while my pen, the source of all that’s pure,
Can call a blessing on our brother Boer,
Will I consent to such an evil thing!
List to me, maiden, for I’m going to sing.

Song: The Good Fairy.

I’m simply a fairy who’s good.
 I work on an excellent plan:
   I show you concisely
   The way to live wisely,
 And help you whenever I can.
I point out the path that is straight,
 And—chiefly—I do what I may
   To give a peremptor-
   y check to the tempter
 Who wants you to go to his play.

    For this is the maxim I strive to implant—
   The theatre brings moral decay.
   No matter how rigid a life you may lead,
   You’re lost if you go to a play.

Of Maeterlinck try to fight shy,
 Or greet him with booing and groans;
   Of Ibsen keep clear. Oh,
   Beware of Pinero,
 And shun the deplorable Jones.
Their motives are risky and wrong,
 Their heroines never quite nice;
   They eke out their follies
   With danceable dollies,
 And other creations of Vice.

   They woo you with tragedy, lure you with farce,
   They mingle the grave with the gay;
   But turn a deaf ear and remember my words—
   You’re lost if you go to a play.

(Enter, with shrieks of laughter, the Demons, Pinero, Maeterlinck, Jones, and Ibsen.)

demons (all together):

Ha, ha, good maiden, listen not to one,
Ho, ho, who says the theatre you should shun.
He, he, his head reminds us of a bun.

good fairy:

Their words suggest to me—as I’m a sinner—
A common corpse’s phosphorescent shimmer.


A thing you’ve said before.

good fairy:

Perhaps ’tis so,
Yet of its abject truthfulness I know.


Tush, we can pitch a stave as well as you.
Listen, and, maiden, you may hearken too.

Quartette: Demons.


We’re four jolly dramatists
 Who write problem plays,
Entrancing the public
 In various ways;
Don’t grudge the expense of it,
 But come round and see


Your Ibsen,


   Your Maeterlinck,




   And me.

We aren’t like those fellows who
 Make incomes like kings
By musical comedies
 And those sort of things.
Our aims are artistic,
 We don’t write for pelf,


Not Ibsen,


   Nor Maeterlinck,




   Nor self.

Don’t talk of your Barries or
 Your Marshalls and Hoods;
When it comes to play-writing,
 We’re there with the goods.
Each critic our thorough
 Pre-eminence owns

   ibsen (bowing):

Of Ibsen,

   maeterlinck (bowing):

       And Maeterlinck,

pinero (bowing):


jones (bowing):

   And Jones.

good fairy:

 Avaunt, aroint thee! Aye, and out upon
 You, decadent deceivers—get thee gone.
(Drives out demons, who fly with derisive laughter.)
 And now, fair maiden, hence I quickly hie,
 As I have several columns to supply
 Ere half-past one. Yet though this demon crew
 I have defeated, let me now anew
 Warn you against a still more dreaded foe.
 Mark well my words, that you at once may know
 It when you see it. ’Tis a Wolf in guise,
 With pleasant smile and most engaging eyes.
 It pays no bills, yet is it finely dressed;
 Or, if it pays, such payment is a test
 Of its vulgarity and rich display,
 And so you’d best avoid it either way.
 At some fine restaurant it cannot fail
 To lunch or dine, and in the Daily Mail
 Records the fact. No Sunday can you fix
 Whereon it plays not bridge from three to six,
 Or races round upon a motor-car,
 Till shrieking rustics know not where they are.
 It uses slang, and never will it stick
 At jokes which are as broad as they are thick.
 ’Tis Decadence complete, and life it fills
 With all the very choicest moral ills.
 Doth this appal you?

little red riding hood:

Aye, in truth, good Sir.

good fairy:

My best advice has often made a stir
In circles which are filled with honest men
Who love to read about the Upper Ten.
And so good-bye.
(Good Fairy flies off right.)

 (Enter Smart Set Wolf in goggles and a motor-car. He drives rapidly round the stage, Red Riding Hood avoiding him with difficulty. Suddenly a loud explosion is heard, and the car stops.)

the wolf (getting out):

Would that I now could catch that addle-pater
Of a chauffeur, for my accelerator
Is never fast enough to suit my taste.
Ha! who is this?

little red riding hood:

A maiden, fair and chaste,
Who to substantial people can refer
If you desire from them a character.

the wolf:

Substantial folk! Mean you with money, child?

little red riding hood:

Aye, Sir.

the wolf (aside):

Ha, ha! then she must be beguiled
At once. The nouveau riche is Heaven sent
To those whose income is so quickly spent
As mine. Now, Smart Set, be a Wolf indeed,
Here is a morsel fit for gourmet’s feed.
Come closer yet, my fascinating dear (aloud).

little red riding hood:

Nay, Sir, excuse me, for I greatly fear
Whom you may be, and why a mask you wear.
I would prefer to see your features bare.

the wolf:

Nay, do not let my goggles cause alarm.
I’ll sing to you; in that there’s never harm.

Song: The Smart Set Wolf.

Oh! I am the king of a Social Ring
 Which nobody can define;
As bubbles pass to the rim of a glass
 When drinking your champagne wine,
As a lover’s thrill or a “rendered” bill,
 So vague is this set of mine,
Ha, ha!
 So vague is this set of mine.

If you like to be dressed in the Bond Street best,
 And pose as a social star,
If your heart is set on a landaulette
 Or a sixty-horse-power car,
Don’t trouble to pay; it is never the way
 To pay in my set, ha, ha!
Ha, ha!
 To pay in my set, Ha, Ha!

If you dance to the tune of Sir Francis Jeune
 And the Co. is a social pet,
Or tradesmen frown as you pass through town,
 And whisper of duns and debt,
Don’t trouble, my dear, you’ve nothing to fear
 If you’re in the Smart Smart Set,
Ha, ha!
 One of my Smart Smart Set.

If your pretty face you would like to place
 In the illustrated press,
With a social par., saying who you are,
 And a sketch of your Ascot dress,
Your wish you will get if you join my set,
 For I am the thing, I guess,
Ha, ha!
 The real, smart thing, I guess.

So come with me, on the strict Q.T.,
 To the pleasure world away,
Where nobody cares what a neighbour dares,
 And life is a funny play.
Where we jump and laugh round the Golden Calf,
 And everyone must be gay,
Ha, ha!
 For that is the Smart Set way.

(Enter Good Fairy on a sunbeam.)

Good fairy:

It is the wolf; his goggles don’t deceive me.
Ah, child, I was a careless chap to leave thee.

 (The Good Fairy rushes at the Wolf, who flies to his motor-car and drives off in the direction of Mrs. Grundy’s cottage.)

[Quick Curtain.]



The interior of Mrs. Grundy’s cottage. The Wolf is discovered disguised in a motor veil, and dressed in the fashion of the season before last, being the clothes of the grandmother, Mrs. Grundy, whom he has just devoured. He is playing bridge at four o’clock on a Sunday afternoon because habit is too strong for him. Being alone, it is triple dummy; he is plainly bored. On the table are several bottles containing morphia, absinthe, crême de menthe, sal volatile, bay rum, and other exclusive drinks. French novels, theatre tickets, restaurant bills, post obits, bills of sale, and billets doux are scattered about the room. It is all very terrible.

Song: Wolf.

If you like a life of leisure,
 You should think before you go
In for unrestricted pleasure:
 It’s the hardest work I know.
You must labour every second,
 Or your friends will soon forget
That you’re anxious to be reckoned
 In the very smartest set.

You must worry Mrs. Grundy,
 And I’ll tell you how it’s done:
Bridge, especially on Sunday
 ’Twixt the hours of ten and one;
Have your car too quickly driven,
 Have a biggish load of debt,
And a place you’ll soon be given
 In the very smartest set.

But at times a thought steals o’er me,
 Spite of all that I can do,
That these rapid habits bore me:
 And I feel that it is true;
For one really can’t help seeing
 In the people one has met,
Signs of weariness of being
 In the very smartest set.

Even Bridge, it is eternal,
 And distinctly apt to pall;
Indescribably infernal
 Is a motor, after all;
One grows tired of talking scandal,
 And, in short, you soon regret
That you thought it worth the candle
 To be in the smartest set.

(Enter Little Red Riding Hood.)

little red riding hood:

’Tis weary walking, and the Fairy good
Although he led me safely through the wood,
Such sound and wise advice did always pour
Into my ear, that he became a bore.
In truth, I could have wished, dear Grandmamma,
That I possessed a little motor-car,
Had I not known such wish was very wrong.
But look (staring around in surprise)—Dear Granny,
  you are going strong!
What! novels, absinthe, bridge, and on a Sunday!
Why, what will you be up to upon Monday?

the wolf:

My dear, I’m merely moving, like the Times,
We old folk must have pleasures.

Duet: Little Red Riding Hood and Wolf.

little red riding hood:

I always used to think of you
As just a sober matron who
 Was eminently British.
But now, if I may candid be,
Upon my word, you seem to me,
 If anything, too skittish.
A cigarette with golden tip
Rests rakishly upon your lip:
I notice you are reading “Gyp,”
 That dangerous Parisian.
I see a pile of bills, unpaid,
And by your side, I’m much afraid,
A drink that isn’t lemonade,
 Although it looks a fizzy ’un.
Oh, Grandmamma, explain to me
The meaning of the things I see.

the wolf:

When you grow up, you’ll find that you
Must act as other people do,
 No matter what your will is.
That ancient saw has power yet—
Mutantur tempora, nos et
(change) in illis.
Now Fashion’s curious decrees,
However much they may displease,
Are binding on her devotees;
 And so I answer truthfully,
That Fashion at the present day
Demands that, when your hair is grey,
You must behave in such a way
 As I am doing—youthfully.

And that, my child, appears to be
The meaning of the things you see.

little red hiding hood:

And this from you! Your sentiment in song
Convinces me the Fairy Good was wrong.
Then may I go and see the pantomime?

the wolf:

Of course, my duckling, we’ll together dine,
And after take a box. I’ll not forget
The opera glasses.

little red riding hood:

Ah! I was so set
On going, that this news is one long joy;
Hurray for mirth, and banish all annoy.

the wolf:

Embrace me, sweet one.

 (The Wolf is just about to eat up Little Red Riding Hood, when a great noise is heard without. The door is burst open, and the Good Fairy appears, uttering loud hunting cries, and blowing his own trumpet. He is followed by the Hunters, represented by Messrs. Benson, R. J. Campbell, Sutro, and Mesdames Corelli and “Rita.” The Hunters form an effective group, facing the audience. As there is no room for the Good Fairy he stands on a chair behind them, trying to attract attention by waving his arms. The Wolf, after watching them for a time, walks out of the door and does not return.)

Hunters’ Chorus.

marie corelli:

I write, exposing wealthy folk,
Who think the Sabbath day a joke;
 I castigate the nobly-born
 Who don’t “behave as sich.”
I earn a large emolument
By volume after volume, meant
 To institute a series of reforms among the rich.


   And our efforts, we believe, ’ll soon eradicate the evil;
    We shall deal it a demoralising blow;
  Oh, we mean to crush the Smart Set,
  On destroying it our heart’s set;
    For it’s really quite too shocking, don’t you know.

alfred sutro:

You’ve seen “The Walls of Jericho,”
In which I do my best to show
 That customs in Belgravia,
 Are, to put it mildly, odd.
Birth? Breeding? Pah! I flout it all,
And prove beyond a doubt at all,
 That a miner who has money is the noblest work of God.

rev. r. j. campbell:

Within the pulpit, week by week,
I’m generally heard to speak
 Of horrifying goings-on
 That mar the gay week-end.
I hate the conduct such as is
The wont of dukes and duchesses,
 When staying at the truly rural mansion of a friend.


I spend my time in trying to teach
The upper classes decent speech;
 For slanginess of every sort
 I resolutely ban.
I shudder at their riskiness;
They speak of “twee” and “diskiness,”
 And talk about their “nighties,” and I wonder how they can!

e. f. benson:

I’m not the sort of chappie, what?
To bar a man because he’s got
 An income much too big for him;
 I only hate display.
It makes a chap despise it so
To see them advertise it so,
 In just that beastly vulgah sort of Yankee kind of way.


   And our efforts, we believe, ’ll soon eradicate the evil;
    We shall deal it a demoralising blow:
  Yes, we mean to crush the Smart Set,
  On destroying it our heart’s set;
    For it’s really quite too shocking, don’t you know.

the hunters (together):

Now for the Wolf; stamp, slay, and eke destroy
This hardened wretch, this incomplete alloy
Of vice, extravagance, and vulgar show.
Hello, he’s gone! Did you, sir, see him go?
(To the Good Fairy.)

good fairy:

Not I. It was your business. Though I own
That I should miss him if instead of flown
He now were dead. For what on earth should I
Have left to write about? Morality
Will ne’er provide a column, while a crime
Fills twenty pages. Therefore make no fuss.

the hunters (together):

Good for the Fairy! So say all of us.

good fairy (to little red riding hood):

We’ve held the stage enough. And what may you,
If I dare make so bold, intend to do?
Will you come back with me?

little red riding hood:

I tell you, no:
I find your conversation very slow.

good fairy and hunters (together):

Then will you join the Wolf? Will you become
A member of the Smart Set? We are done
Entirely, if such dreadful infamy
You choose. Will you go visiting a play
The product of a wicked demon’s brain?
From such ignoble conduct pray refrain.

little red riding hood:

A play! We’re at one now.

good fairy:

Alas! she’s mad,
Or else entirely going to the bad.

little red riding hood:

A play, I say, and eke a problem play,
Is what we all are acting in to-day.

good fairy:

Explain, poor child.

little red riding hood:

Then, prithee, tell me now,
 Am I about to join the Wolf or vow
 To tread the virtuous path whereon we pass
Our lives—we of the Upper Middle Class?

good fairy:

That is a problem that I do not know.

Little Red Riding Hood:

Forgive me if I say I told you so.
It is a problem. Therefore fairly may
We dub this little piece a Problem Play.

the rest:

Ah, horror!

    (From without is heard the howl of a Wolf.
Good Fairy flies up the chimney.
Hunters cluster together as the curtain falls.)